by Fred Behringer
RUMSON, N.J. Allan Small of Fairmount Country Club birdied the last hole to win the 51st NJSGA Senior Amateur Championship today at Rumson Country Club. His clutch putt enabled him to overtake first-round leader Ron Vannelli of Metuchen Golf and Country Club, who made his only bogey of the day on the final hole, by a single stroke.
Small followed his 73 on the first day with a sparkling 3-under-par 68 on the second day, for a total of 141 and his second consecutive Senior Amateur. Vannelli led the field with his opening 71 and matched it in the concluding round to score 142.
Neil Schuman of Alpine closed strongly with 70 after opening with 74. His 36–hole total of 144 put him alone in third place, one shot ahead of Ray Marchuk of Plainfield and Robert Housen of Manasquan River (both 72-73—145). Schuman won the low net prize.
The Senior Amateur is for golfers 55 and older. Housen took first place in the Super-Senior division (65 and older), while Tom Hyland of Little Mill shot 72-69—141 to win the Pre-Senior division (ages 50-54).
Other winners were the Rumson golf course and superintendent Jim Cross and his staff, who managed to keep the grounds playable following heavy rain that soaked the area prior to the start of the championship. “They did a great job,” said Michael McAneny, the NJSGA tournament director.
Small expected to improve his score in the second round when the greens would be drier. “I putted horribly [in the first round],” he said. “I didn’t make anything, but I knew I was hitting the ball well. I played pretty solid today. Ron came by at the 10th hole to check on things and we were both even [par], so I knew I was right in it.”
His play at the par-4 15th hole proved significant when he knocked a 7-iron close to the difficult, back-right hole location and made a tricky birdie putt. “That was a key birdie,” Small said. He gave back a stroke on the par-three 17th when his tee shot came up short in a bunker. His explosion left a six-foot par putt, which he narrowly missed.
But Small got the stroke right back at the 352-yard 18th. “I hit a good drive and a pitching wedge to six or seven feet and rolled in a curling putt,” he recalled.
Playing two groups behind Small, Vannelli dropped a demanding putt to save par on the 17th after his see shot went over the green. But he suffered a bad break when his drive on the 18th missed the fairway on the left side and finished on the edge of a fairway bunker. Better for Vannelli had the ball dropped into the bunker. As it turned out, he was forced to take a stance in the sand with the ball well above his feet. He worked to get comfortable, backed away twice and changed clubs before pulling the shot into rough left of the green. His chip left him a putt of about eight feet, which slid just past the hole for the decisive bogey.
“I couldn’t figure out how to hit the second shot,” he said later. “I knew it was going to go left. The putt just broke more than I thought it would. That’s golf. But I played good. That was my only bogey today.” The 18th hole was not kind to Vannelli. He also bogeyed it by three-putting in the first round.
Small was playing in just his fifth tournament of the year. “Normally I would have played five events by mid-May,” he said. Time devoted to his first year as president of the Metropolitan Golf Association and extra business responsibilities due to the economy have limited his playing opportunities. “Golf has not been the priority it’s been in the past,” Small noted, “so it’s nice to get a win.”